A prominent leader of the Maputo moslem community, Nazir Lunat, is under investigation in connection with last week's attempt to smuggle the equivalent of 7.3 million US dollars in banknotes from Mozambique to South Africa, reports Thursday's issue of the independent weekly “Savana”.
The money was hidden in a false compartment in the back of a Toyota Hilux. On Christmas Day, the South African police stopped and searched the car at the Lebombo border post. They arrested, on suspicion of money-laundering, the two Mozambican citizens travelling in the car.
They have been named as 50 year old Assane Momad and 37 year old Abdul Ahmed.
The South African police swooped because they received an anonymous tip-off, which “Savana” surmises must have come from a rival group inside Mozambique.
Assane Momad is the brother-in-law of Nazir Lunat, who is the imam at the Masjid Taqwa mosque on Eduardo Mondlane Avenue in central Maputo. This is a mosque much frequented by citizens of Pakistani origin.
When “Savana” approached Lunat on Wednesday, he refused to make any comment on the matter. Even when the paper insisted, all that Lunat would say was “No. I prefer not to speak about the subject”.
The money was counted by officials of Standard Bank, a task which took about five hours, and it was then deposited in a branch of Standard Bank.
According to a Mozambican jurist cited by “Savana”, the money will revert to the South African state, if it is proven to result from criminal activity.
“If it is the product of a legal activity, then the owner must prove it, and explain why he did not use legally accepted procedures, such as depositing it in a Mozambican bank, and then using a bank transfer to move it”, the jurist added.
The very fact that Momad and Ahmed hid the money is a concealed compartment in their vehicle is a strong indication that it was the fruit of crime.
The Mozambican police have sent two senior officers to assist the South Africans in the investigations. Fears have been expressed in South Africa that the money may have been intended to finance the terrorist activities of the self-styled “Islamic State”.
Momad and Ahmed are currently in detention in a police station in the South African town of Komatipoort. They are due to appear in court in Barberton next Monday, when a judge will decide whether to keep them in jail pending their trial, or to release them on bail.